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Thursday
Sep282017

Snow leopard – endangered to  vulnerable

Recent studies looking into population numbers of the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) have revealed that their numbers are increasing across their range. In this article we discuss whether this is cause for celebration and take a look at what is needed for the survival of these big cats in the future.

The snow leopard is a large cat found in 12 countries of central and southern Asia, it is characterized by a long tail, thick fur and pale eyes. As its name would suggest, it inhabits cold, mountainous areas where it hunts prey such as Himalayan Tahr and mountain sheep. The snow leopard is perfectly adapted to its environment and has little difficulty moving through deep snow.

Flickr | Tambako The JaguarUntil recently the snow leopard has been listed on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list as endangered, this is due to a multitude of threats that affect their survival, both directly and indirectly. The pressures that led to snow leopards becoming endangered include climate change, poaching and loss of prey.

Thanks to extensive conservation efforts, this species has recently been reclassified as vulnerable. While this may seem like good news, and it’s certainly positive that numbers are increasing, the definition of ‘vulnerable’ is still concerning. The term vulnerable is used by the IUCN to define the conservation status of a species which is expected to become endangered without a change in the circumstances that affect its survival. From this definition, it’s clear that more work is needed to ensure the survival of snow leopards.

Some organisations even disagree with the reclassification, claiming that the population data collected to justify the status change is lacking or invalid. These groups say that the threats to snow leopards may be increasing and that it’s important not to become complacent when it comes to protecting these cats.

Flickr | pipilongstockingsOne of the biggest threats to this species has come from conflict with humans, the people that share their homes with these leopards often rear a large number of livestock and in some leopard ranges this can lead to the cats’ main source of food being domestic animals. When leopards are forced to turn to livestock for food this leads to an abrasive relationship with the humans that raise the animals. Farmers obviously lose money when their livestock are killed and so often resort to killing snow leopards to protect their herds, this is known as ‘retaliation killing’.

So what can be done in the future to help this species to become stable? It’s important that relationship between people and snow leopards is strengthened. Some ways of achieving this include tracking the leopards’ movements in order to reduce their contact with humans and livestock. Another method is for charities to set up compensation schemes for farmers who have lost some of their animals to the leopards. Other ways of helping this species include schemes to replenish prey populations and law enforcement to reduce poaching.

It’s important that people don’t see this status change as too much of a victory, while it is a step in the right direction for this species there is still a long way to go to achieve full population stability. This amazing species remains at risk and requires ongoing support and conservation

By Gabrielle Brooks - Online Journalism Intern

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